“Whatever draws us together, draws us together, and whatever separates us, separates us.”
This little truism is one I share with those I counsel people prior to their weddings. We talk about the BIG issues of life during those sessions, and this is just a little thought that’s important in relationship. So the statement doesn’t just have to do with marriage. It is simply true of human beings. This is how we are.
When I did my little experiment of “blindness” I discovered that what I was told was true. I could sense my closeness or distance from other things. I could feel the difference between coins by touching their edge. Someone decided to make the edges of coins different and so I can reach into my pocket and tell the difference by touch.
Difference is so important to relationship, but it can also divide us. Loneliness develops from an increasing sense of difference. We sense and focus on our own difference or we are driven into it by the bullying, belittling or neglect from others. We get lost in that emptiness and our souls begin to whither. We become those who develop security from stuff gathered around us or from continuing to talk, almost unable to stop, or simply standing close. Proximity to large amounts or to attention or to presence take the place of living within and enjoying the difference we bring to community.
Unfortunately, personal difference can drive those who are most scared by life to define worth by sameness rather than finding rest in similarity. When these folks gain some power for any reason they produce laws in which they claim the community must abide. But community isn’t developed, just these people’s sense of comfort. We find it in people who hoard anything in order to find safety. The kid who roams the school hallways defining who’s in and who isn’t or the adult who demands that they and others establish worth by the walls they build of wealth or the latest tech or around neighborhoods are doing the same thing as the lady whose home is filled with stacks of newspaper. They find security in the control they find in sameness in their existence.
It’s when we walk in fear, in the valley of the shadow, and allow similarity and the lack of control built into that to prevail as a comfort rather than a threat that life grows. It is because God, the one who created all, is with me that I can rest in my discomfort at being similar but not the same. I can touch difference and discover how great life can be and then walk with it. I lose my indifference, that apathy, that antithesis to love and enjoy the similarity. Once I begin to enjoy similarity I start to appreciate and discern difference and it creates rather than detracts from life. When I begin to appreciate similarity I look for what is life-giving and to discern what is not.
So I get why some people fall into the need for sameness and build their lives with that security. It’s a risk to be different. It’s scary. But it is the basis of what we call organic, because it is participation in the lack of control and the enjoyment of the order that grows naturally. On the other hand, I get why people have to proclaim that all personal expressions are fine or have the same value. It’s hard to allow difference and discernment. It’s hard to live in the tension that “all things are permissible but not all things are helpful.” We build security so we can feel it.
It’s hard to just be a sheep when we want to tell the shepherd what to do. We bleat our anxiety over needing to be the same and treated the same as much as we bleat our anxiety over being so different we feel like wandering off alone. But we are given the chance to live within our indentifying fragility while rejoicing in our flocking similarity. This is why what draws us together is the One who knows us and whom we know, whose voice we recognize, who leaves the flock to find the one who is lost and who lays down his life for us. He knows our similarity and he knows our distinctions and he enjoys us in it all.